The Chatham-Kent Chamber of Commerce held its 127th annual Business Excellence Awards Thursday night, patting some local movers and shakers on the back in the process.
Topping that list was Barry Fraser, who was named citizen of the year.
Fraser, well known in local and provincial agricultural circles, is also a long-time Rotarian, and is on the Chatham-Kent Hospice board of directors. He will take the reins as District Governor for Rotary in two years, representing all seven Chatham-Kent clubs, as well as a number in southeast Michigan.
He said being named citizen of the year is “very pleasant and humbling.”
Fraser loves the annual awards, as he believes in recognizing people for their contributions to the greater community.
His most recent focus has been the hospice. It began during his fours years as head of the St. Andrew’s Residence board of directors and continued as vice-chair of the hospice committee.
To see the project go from the conceptual phase to ready-to-build in such a short period of time is awesome, Fraser said.
“I have a great sense of satisfaction to see it developed,” he said.
He added all seven local Rotary clubs, along with the district, have pledged a combined $177,500 to the project.
Shovels are to go into the ground this month, with completion anticipated later this year.
Victory Ford Lincoln earned corporate citizen of the year honours, with Don “Sparky” Leonard accepting the award.
“It’s awful humbling,” he said of the dealership earning such praise. Leonard is a believer of working hard to help others.
“When you think you should work to make the world a better place, it’s a no brainer,” he said of committing to help the Chatham-Kent community. “To be recognized is really nice.”
Victory Ford assists a host of charitable groups and youth organizations with its fundraising efforts. But the support is also quite hands on, as many staff members are part of local organizations and groups, Leonard said.
“Many of our employees get involved outside the store,” he said. “We are part of the fabric of the community,” he said. “
Leonard thinks more people should become involved in making Chatham-Kent a better place, rather than just talking about it and looking at a problem without taking action.
“If we approached everything we could do in our community to roll up our sleeves and make it work, it will happen. If we watch, it will pass us by,” he said.
Emily Meko of Eat What’s Good earned two awards from the Chamber this year, business professional and entrepreneur of the year. Her store on St. Clair Street hasn’t even been around for a year, but she’s now busy shipping vegan and gluten-free product and produce to outlying communities, and is poised to go beyond our borders.
Meko has operated the business for the previous four years as a seasonal operation while she was in school.
But now she’s setting up to ship product to places as far away as Guelph and Toronto.
Meko prefers to use locally grown fruits and vegetables for her orders.
There is certainly no shortage of it.
“A lot of food that’s grown in Chatham doesn’t even get eaten here,” she said.
Meko’s main supplier is River Bell Market Garden in Dresden, an organic operation.
As she’s preparing to expand her distribution zone, she looks back on a busy 2014. Meko described last year as a “wild, but very rewarding, ride.”
Devolder’s Farm earned Industry of the year. The seed company is an anchor business in Dover Township.
“It’s so nice to be recognized and supported by the people in the community,” Lisa Devolder said. Her parents Bob and Diane are the majority owners.
“We are shocked and humbled and the employees are excited,” Devolder added.
She sees the awards night as a great chance to point out the positive efforts of local businesses and individuals.
“There’s a lot of good in this community,” she said. “You can remind people of this with events like this.”
Southwest Granite & Glass earned the business of excellence award. Owners Kevin Deacon and Brad Goldsmith were honoured.
“We were greatly surprised,” Deacon said. “Being nominated is nice, but winning is honestly different.”
Deacon praised Chamber of Commerce staff for championing local business.
“I can’t say enough about the chamber. Gail (Bishop, president and CEO) and Sarah (Smith, administrative assistant) have been great in helping us with our business needs,” he said. “They do a lot of good work at the chamber.”
“It’s great to see people care so much.”